Those of you who hare expecting a hack of the Wii U might have been expecting news from the fail0verflow hacking team recently. In one of his rare (but always insightful) blog posts, fail0verflow’s Marcan gave his opinion on the future of console hacking and homebrew in general, as well as the current status (and in depth details) of fail0verflow’s Wii U hack. Assuming his opinion of the current status of console hacking is shared by many hackers, the future of homebrew is not really bright.
I mentioned not so long ago that I believe console hacking has become difficult enough that only companies with high expectations of return-on-investment would engage into the hacking of consoles. Marcan has a slightly different theory, but is conclusion is the same: piracy might become the sole driver of console hacking in the years to come (while, believe it or not, data seems to show piracy is rarely the initial intent), therefore gray-hat hobbyists and homebrew programmers might not be driving the scene anymore.
Summarizing Marcan’s article without missing its bigger picture might be difficult, but I’ll try with this: Marcan’s point is that hackers’ interest has moved on, because cheap-but-powerful devices made for hackers or indie developers are now the norm (think Ouya, raspberry pi, or any Android device today: you can get a quad-core running Android for less than $100). While consoles were affordable devices that hackers wanted to explore years ago, they have become relatively expensive and uninteresting pieces of hardware in a sea of hacker-friendly competition. Marcan mentions that the same will be true for the upcoming PS4 and XBox, as those will be nothing more than “glorified PCs”.
Add to that the legal issues that hacking can bring a hobbyist (and Fail0verflow are in a good position to mention that), and you’ll see why it’s not really worth the trouble for them.
Although we’ve taken different approaches to describe the situation, Marcan’s conclusion is, however, the same as me: let alone the taste for challenge that many hackers have, there are not many good reasons remaining to want to hack a console besides piracy. People who want homebrew have dozens of ways to do so (even Sony has made a step in their direction recently on the Vita), so “regular” hackers will move away and be replaced by shady companies revolving around piracy dongles and mods, such as the recently announced Wiikey For Wii U.
On a side note, and maybe only to prove that it’s really lack of interest but not the lack of skills that was driving his blog post, Marcan disclosed lots of information of fail0verflow’s ongoing hack of the Wii U, stating that they have fully hacked the Wii U, to a point where “there is basically no security left to break in“. The article includes snippets of code, probably enough for people of the trade to move forward, but that will confuse the general audience who’s generally not versed into the fine art of C programming and hacking.
I am still heavily using my PSP for homebrew, and it is possible the situation is actually the opposite of what Marcan stated: maybe people are losing interest in homebrews on recent consoles because hacking as recently focused a lot on piracy rather than homebrew, and not the other way around. The PSP had a great unofficial SDK for homebrew programming: maybe if such a thing ever came out for the Wii U, or the Vita, people would be motivated again to write unofficial applications.
Are you playing any homebrew games or emulators? On what console? Or are you moving all your “indie experiments” to more open platforms such as Android or the Ouya? Do you believe the nextgen console’s hacking should become the private playground of hardware mod companies? Or should hackers release their work, if only to prevent such companies from making money out of piracy?